Review by Lori M. Myers, Senior Interviews Editor
Inspiration, lifestyle, escape. Manhattan means all those things and more to author Kate Walter whose debut memoir, Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing, relays her journey – spiritual and otherwise – about the breakup of her long-time lesbian relationship. The city, and her love of it, forms the canvas for Walter’s initial turmoil and ultimately her peace.
Walter’s essays and opinion articles have appeared in the New York Times, Newsday, New York Daily News, AM-NY, the Advocate, and others. She teaches writing at City University of New York and New York University.
Lori: Your memoir, Looking for A Kiss, goes beyond gender orientation and becomes a story anyone can relate to. Was this your goal?
Kate: Yes, and thank you. That was my goal: to be universal. My book is dedicated to “women who’ve been dumped after twenty-five years.” I expect most of my readers will be women, but my book is for everyone, not just gay women. I was really happy when straight women told me how much they could relate to my memoir. Gay men told me they could relate to my bad date stories, and my old high school boyfriend–a minor character in the book, and a straight man and an author–said he loved it.
The message of my memoir is that you can go through a horrible breakup–emotionally and financially–and that you can come out on the other side. You can survive and thrive. You can emerge happier and a better person, more in touch with yourself. Looking for a Kiss provides a road map as to how I healed myself from a traumatic event. Of course, writing itself was very cathartic.
Your story is so universal, and many readers agree. But you initially came out at a time when it was much more difficult to do so than it is now. Was it tough (despite the writing being cathartic) to kind of relive that point in your history? I mean, your father had a hard time with it.
My coming out was so long ago–the 1970s–that, today, is it humorous, not painful to relive that point in my history. The painful part was reliving the breakup and the aftermath and revisiting my life with Slim.
You include detailed dialogue throughout the book. How did you go about that with regard to memory?
The scene when I came out to my parents in 1979 has a lot of dialogue. I wrote that scene right after it happened and dug it up when I started the memoir. I knew it was meaningful and that it was important to write at the time when fresh in my memory. The more recent scenes, like all the dates, were written soon after they took place. Some parts of the book had been published earlier as personal essays, and I wove them into the memoir.
So you jotted down that dialogue with those details still fresh. What advice do you have for memoir writers who don’t have that luxury yet wish to recall dialogue in a scene? In your opinion, how much “truth” must they incorporate?
My advice is to jot stuff down immediately, but if you have not done that, then I suggest trying to remember a few lines of dialogue and go from there. You will likely have to recreate the dialogue. But you must be true to what happened, even if you can’t remember the exact words the character spoke.
When you’re not writing or teaching, what are some favored activities, hobbies?
I love doing yoga and have been taking classes at the Integral Yoga Institute for decades. I love swimming in the ocean and spend as much time as possible at the Jersey Shore during the summer and fall. Both Integral Yoga & the Jersey Shore appear in my memoir. I also enjoy bike riding on the boardwalk along the ocean or along the Hudson River in New York City. I like seeing art in galleries or museums. I like hearing live music, whether in a small jazz club in the Village or an outdoor concert in Central Park. I’m an avid reader who tries to read a book a week, mixing up nonfiction and fiction.
So what’s next? What are you working on writing-wise?
I’m always working on new personal essays, and I write short columns for AM-NY, a free daily paper in New York City that is distributed on the subway and in boxes. That is really great exposure because everyone reads it.
I’m trying to nail down my next book idea. I’m a Capricorn, so I climb slowly but steadily. After my memoir came out, I tried fiction; I wrote 25 pages of a novel, but I believe my forte is creative nonfiction. I’m thinking of writing a memoir about my ultra-Catholic upbringing in the 50s and 60s. It was very repressive, and it was hard to break away from a religious family. I think being different, being gay (even before I came out to myself), saved me and propelled me forward. Now I need to find the container for that storyline and a thread to stitch my past to the present.
How about upcoming appearances? Signings?
I will be interviewed live on LesBe Real Radio Talk on March 3 from 7- 8pm. My publisher ( Heliotrope Books) and I will be at the Rainbow Book Fair in New York City, the largest LGBT book fair in the country, on April 9.
Lori M. Myers is a New York-based award-winning writer and Pushcart Prize nominee of creative nonfiction, fiction, essays, and plays. Her work has been seen in more than 45 national and regional magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. Her plays have been produced overseas, in Canada, and across the US, three are published, and one was a Broadway World Award nominee. Lori has a masters in creative writing from Wilkes University and currently teaches at Dominican College in New York.